Tough task awaits Deer Lakes in WPIAL semifinals
Softballs ping and pop all over the place, one frozen rope leaving the bat with more force than the next.
It has become commonplace at Deer Lakes' softball field — and this is just practice.
“Wow, we're hitting today,” Lancers coach Craig Taliani said Tuesday as his team prepared to face No. 1 seed Neshannock (19-0) in today's WPIAL Class AA semifinals at North Allegheny.
Thing is, Taliani's team hits like that just about every day — especially when it counts. Fourth-seeded Deer Lakes (17-1) averages 10 runs and hits better than .400 as a team.
But on the off chance the hits dry up today, Taliani wants his girls to be ready for small ball — and ready to play mistake-free defense.
“You want to shore things up defensively,” Taliani said. “We have been working a lot on our bunt and slap coverages.”
Deer Lakes enters the semis fresh off a thrilling 6-5 victory over Mohawk. Sophomore first baseman C.C. Sarver's bases-loaded single — one of Deer Lakes' 19 hits in the game — drove in the winning run.
Neshannock averages nine runs per game. Similar to Deer Lakes in every way, even down to its Lancers nickname, the team relies on defense and strings of hits.
“We know we have to take advantage of opportunities and not give them extra outs,” Taliani said. Pitcher Amanda Furst hasn't been overpowering in the playoffs, but only allowed six hits in a quarterfinal win over Freeport, another free-swinging team from Section 3-AA.
Neshannock has allowed 38 runs all season.
Today's game will be a rematch from last year's first round, when Deer Lakes won, 6-1. In that game, Haliey Moretti, Candace Scanga, Hannah Blinn and Sarver all had RBI.
Moretti and Scanga are Deer Lakes' only seniors.
“Candace and Haliey are four-year starters,” Taliani said. “They have been there before.”
Scanga also has been to the WPIAL playoffs in basketball and soccer. Her leadership has been a key.
“It can be about how you handle close games,” Scanga said. “You have to be able to make the simple plays, and keep your head up and keep playing when you don't.”
Moretti will get the start on the mound. In the last meeting against Neshannock, she struck out seven.
“It will come down to which team wants it the most,” Moretti said. “We have talked a lot about what it would mean for us to (get to the championship game). It means a lot.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-224-2696 or firstname.lastname@example.org.